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60 Years Since Nuclear Turned on the Lights

December 20, 2011 - 10:50am

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At 1:23pm on December 20, 1951, Argonne National Laboratory director Walter Zinn scribbled into his log book, “Electricity flows from atomic energy. Rough estimate indicates 45 kw.” At that moment, scientists from Argonne and the National Reactor Testing Station, the forerunner to today's Idaho National Laboratory,  watched four light bulbs glow, powered by the world’s first nuclear reactor to generate electricity.

Fifteen years later, in Arco, Idaho, President Johnson stood at this same site and designated the reactor a national historic landmark. He said, “We have moved far to tame for peaceful uses the mighty forces unloosed when the atom was split. And we have only just begun. What happened here merely raised the curtain on a very promising drama in our long journey for a better life.”

Since then, our commitment to innovation in peaceful nuclear power technology has grown. From pioneering R&D in safer, more efficient advanced reactor technologies to supporting the construction of a new generation of nuclear plants, the Energy Department and the Obama Administration are committed to restarting America’s nuclear industry to create new jobs and provide clean power to America’s communities.

As part of these efforts, the Energy Department has awarded conditional loan guarantees to support the construction of the first U.S. nuclear reactors in more than three decades. The project, located at the Vogtle nuclear power plant in Burke, Georgia, will bring two new Westinghouse AP1000 reactors online -- supporting 3,500 construction jobs and 800 permanent jobs along with providing clean electricity to nearly 1.4 million people.

We’re also collaborating with industry to advance reactor design certification, including the AP1000. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission recently took steps toward a decision certifying the reactor -- moving this technology closer to market deployment.

Looking to the future, we’re accelerating R&D in the next generation of reactor technology. We are working to advance small modular reactors, which provide an important opportunity for America’s manufacturing sector to make and sell cutting-edge technology. Based on proven light-water reactor technologies, small modular reactors have the added advantage of passive safety systems, compact and scalable design and lower capital costs.

Our Nuclear Energy Modeling and Simulation Energy Innovation Hub , based at Oak Ridge National Lab, is leveraging our national labs’ supercomputing capabilities to build tools that will help us bring new, safer reactor technologies to market faster and reduce costs for private industry investments.  

Promoting a sustainable nuclear industry in the U.S. also requires cultivating the next generation of scientists and engineers. Over the past three years, the Department has invested $170 million in research grants at more than 70 universities, supporting R&D into a full spectrum of technologies, from advanced reactor concepts to enhanced safety design.

As Assistant Secretary Lyons notes in the video above, any forecast for a clean energy future requires a strong role for nuclear power. Through investments in nuclear energy, the Energy Department is working to help power American homes and business with reliable, clean energy, create thousands of jobs in the years ahead, and leverage American technological ingenuity to solve our nation’s clean energy challenges and lead a growing global industry.

For more information on this milestone: http://www.inl.gov/ebr/
 

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